March 5, 2009

What if God Disappeared?

Kiped from Integral Options Cafe.

16 comments:

Nagarjuna said...

Tom--
I've never believed the religious "apologists" who claim that religion--THEIR religion or the God it worships--is the foundation of morality and law and that if their religion or God were to vanish or be rejected wholesale, moral and legal chaos, well beyond what we have already, would ensue. I've long argued that our moral sense predates and preceeds the Christian or any other faith and that, ultimately, an act is good or evil not because God says it is, but that God (allegedly) says an act is good or evil because it is that already.

For instance, if God were to allegedly decree that parents should rape their children before they turn 10, I think or at least hope that most of us would consider that grossly immoral even though God allegedly decreed it and said that it is good.

Tom said...

I *mostly* agree with you, Nagarjuna. But recently I was reading about Roman fathers' rights with respect to their children. It seems that in Rome a father had every legal right to kill his young children and that this happened very frequently. The subscribed method for murdering a child was drowning. Children could also be mutilated or abandoned. [Abandoned children were usually "rescued" by being put into slavery.]

I think, now, we are heavily influenced by the mores of the society in which we grow up. Values of right, wrong, fairness, justice and compassion are learned and also come to us in a maturation process [as Maslow & Spiral Dynamics & Wilber write about]

Nagarjuna said...

You make a good point. Sometimes, religious morality is more evolved than the morality of the society with which it comes in contact and, through that contact, uplifts that society's morality.

Yet, at other times, a religion's morality seems less evolved than that of society or, at least, of the most morally advanced members of society. It seems to me that Christian or any other religion's morality comes not from "God" up in heaven but from human beings confronted by the problems of living in this world, and that the ultimate arbiter of a religion's or "God's" moral soundness is our highest human moral sensibility. If God is good, it's because his conduct corresponds to our conception of goodness, not because his conduct defines goodness.

On another note, I hadn't watched the video before posting my previous comment. I had only seen the still photo in the video window. I have to say that when I later began watching the video, I thought the narrator was sincerely voicing his opinion and that this opinion was ridiculous. Further into the video, I "saw the light" and disgust gave way to mirth.

Tom said...

"On another note, I hadn't watched the video before posting my previous comment. I had only seen the still photo in the video window. I have to say that when I later began watching the video, I thought the narrator was sincerely voicing his opinion and that this opinion was ridiculous."

That'll teach you!! Edward Current's videos are usually very, very ham-handed. THIS one is much more subtle, but is clearly a parody if you pay attention to things in the background.

Actually, though, God ISN'T all that good [See The Not-So-Good Good Book.] I have much more "faith" in society and in the moral path, as described in Buddhism and by Wilber and others.

Mumon said...

Tom:


If you haven't seen the "Root of All Evil?" bits on Youtube by Dawkins, I'd recommend it; most relevant here is Dawkins' observation that "moral" behavior exists in other mammalian species as well.

We humans traditionally have had ridiculously narcissistic views of ourselves. We're basically chimps or whales with better dexterity and brains. And responsibilities.

Tom said...

Mumon,

I've now seen two episodes of what I believe are two sets of five episodes in Dawkins' "Root of All Evil?" series.

I will follow through and watch them all, but I am more than a little put off by the manipulative music and what seems so far to be a justification of the absolute rightness of a Flatland reductionist view of existance.

I will soldier on; but I still hold to the idea that consciousness cannot be reduced to a physical and chemical happening. There IS such a thing as spirituality. The Christians and other theists and religionists are, likely, substantially wrong, of course, but many have that tangy and essential spark of insight that most/many atheists seem to lack.

Mumon said...

Tom:

I find Dawkin's view of our existence everything I mean by "spiritual." He appreciates the ridiculous singularity of his existence. Very Buddhist.

I still hold to the idea that consciousness cannot be reduced to a physical and chemical happening.

If this is a given - if our consciousness is an outcome from an electrochemical process, then that has profound spiritual implications. Like Buddha nature really does, in some fashion, permeate the whole universe, though I hate to go there, nontheist that I am. ;-)

As for the music, I do think it's appropriate in the areas where it's being played against the "What the hell are they teaching their kids???" parts.

I think I put in on my blog, but my 7 year old had to endure complaints from parents because...wait for it...not because he's an atheist but...wait for it... because he told other kids he didn't believe in Santa Claus!

It was a wonderful opportunity to try to teach him to be tolerant of others, even if he thought their beliefs were wacky. Would but the other parents teach unto their children the same stuff. Well, I can dream, can't I?

Chris said...

This is all silly stuff. The new atheists don't have much to offer. As a believer (in God) people like Jacques Derrida and Ivan from the The Brothers Karamazov provide me much more pause than Dawkins or Harris or Hitchens. The salvific value of scientific reduction and rational thinking are as absurd as believing in angels and miracles.

Mumon said...

Chris:

Apart from the actions one can take to mitigate suffering, what "salvific" values are needed?

And while I'm at it, Ivan Karamazov is a fictional straw-man, albeit a cleverly constructed one.

But, having read Dawkins book on atheism, I can tell you he makes a very salient point that Derrida could not have made, namely, the Argument from Design, if you're unaware of the bugs in existence, presupposes a designer which cannot but be ridiculously complex relative to the design. As somebody who these days much more than dabbles in information theory this argument is extremely cogent. For some reason, despite (because of?) my endeavors in the field, I have never been granted an online audience with the great William Dembski, perhaps for inquiring when he'd publish in the IEEE Transactions on Information Theory)

Tom:

Thanks for the link. On the other hand, as per Chris's remark about Derrida, despite my antipathy towards Integral Theory, perhaps you can chuckle at the fact that my first thought on reading that was, "How shall this be read? As satire?"

Seriously, though, there is much to disagree with that article's representation of Ken Wilber on when taken on face value, which, oddly enough, is capturable by the very notions behind the video you posted. I know that writer has a different viewpoint than Wilber, but perhaps my professional deformation renders me incapable of getting their point.

But this I know, from what I've read elsewhere: Wilber simply doesn't get evolutionary biology, and certainly doesn't get system theory, the way real system scientists practice it. We're all very tentative about it; very phenomenological. However, when one insists that the supernatural bump into the observable, one had better have a good reason - an observable reason for doing so. Otherwise, it is, as we say, a situation that happens on a set of measure zero.

That folks want something "more" out of existence is more to do with their beginingless impregnation with the Three Poisions than with the Supernature of Existence, from what I've observed.

Chris said...

Mumon:
With respect to the first statement, I think what is unambiguously clear that science and reason are insufficient on their own to bring about salvation (you could also substitute liberation if you are more comfortable with Buddhist terminology). Check out Walter Benjamin, Heidegger, Adorno, Levinas, and Derrida for convincingly trenchant criticisms of the horrors of an instrumentalized or technical rationality in 20th century life.

Dawkins is decidedly out of his element in discussing anything outside of biology. His attempts to tie together violence and religion make me gasp. If it was 1750 he may have a point but anyone with an eight grade history education can dismantle a large part of his God book.

Mumon said...

Chris:

I don't disagree about reason and science - they are tools, useful to describe and diagnose and to implement prescriptions.

From a Buddhist point of view, they may at times be necessary to help transcend suffering, but are not sufficient.

But this is not what someone like Dawkins says.

Regarding Dawkins' statements of religion and violence, I'd be keen for an example. But even Buddhism has been associated with violence over the centuries, including but not limited to the "invention" of the suicide-bomber, and some the egregious statements and support by some Japanese Zen clergy during the militant part of the Showa era.

There are things that Dawkins leaves out of his book that can rightly be laid at Christianity's feet, too. Things from the 19th and 20th centuries. Things that happened in places as diverse as Vietnam, Ireland, the Southern US, the Georgian Republic, the Archdiocese of Boston, and other places. There are things that one can raise about recent events.

People can use all kinds of "reasoning" to support murderous and predatory intent. Perhaps some of these people have convinced themselves that they had good intentions in doing so. People can call themselves anything to realize evil if they so wish.

With Buddhism, at least, there is the ultimate responsibility devolved to the individual, with no real dodging of responsibility by appealing to a book or a creed or a clergyman. Would that it were true of other religions as well. It is not.

And even today, some Christian clergy are saying that a 9 year old girl should suffer eternal harm because she had an aborted her twins that were conceived by a result of a step-father's rape.

Yes, our morality has evolved from 1750 or so, but it is largely due to the folks like Dawkins and other non-monotheists than it is was led by monotheists, especially those who are conservative or those who by their silence acquiesced to their conservatism.

Chris said...

Mumon:

You are proffering is a thinly veiled apology for Western modernity (which has now been transported globally) and its prioritization of the individual over against tradition and authority. The "individual" or the "subject" are not even legitimate categories in the West until the 16th century and--from what I can tell-- only become stable concepts in Eastern culture and Buddhist thought when Westerners import or project their own self-understanding onto these other cultures. It strikes me that prima facie, the autonomy of the individual you seem to be exalting is precisely the root source of much of the ills of modernity and these ills can be traced from the Cartesian subject through the Kantian "dare to think for yourself" to the Nietzschean "will to power." The autonomous ego, the individual, and the subject are constructs of modernity that are problematic not only philosophically but also politically and socially. To attribute the primacy of the individual to Buddhism strikes me as a colonialism of the worst kind.

It seems that you are operating from the assumption that Dawkins himself is not beholden to any form of tradition or authority, when in fact he clearly is committed to the Enlightenment tradition and its specific figuration of rationality. It is a highly
successful use of rationality, but its scope is severely limited to cauasal explanations about the interaction between discrete phenomena. It strikes me that Dawkins error is an error of transgression, an era of viewing the success of Enlightenment and scientific rationality as lisence to interpret all reality through that lens. The unfortunate
reality is that the success of Enlightenment rationality in the realm of science, have not been apparent in the realm of morals and ethics (witness 20th century Europe, but also the colonialism of modernity which ravaged other cultures in the name of "Enlightenment"). I would be curious to hear who you would point to as exemplary figures in the evolution of morality since 1750? Dawkins is the only one you point
to and if your case hinges upon the credibility of Dawkins's moral theory, count me skeptical.

Finally, as Walter Benjamin says, "every act of civilization is at the same time an act of barbarism." There is no uncorrupted tradition and the risk of entering into conversation with ancient religious traditions (or any tradition) necessarily involves a hermeneutic of
discretion. But the risk is necessary--as you seem to acknowledge with your commitment to Buddhism, albeit a truncated and individualized Buddhism. The claim is that these traditions are ambiguous as all traditions are ambiguous, but that they offer
correctives to blind spots in our present traditions that call for corrective. So, for instance, it strikes me that the biblical traditions offer an alternative to the autistic subject of modernity and the isolated, individualized tendencies of the modern West. The
biblical traditions (at their best) offer an approach to community in terms asymmetrical responsibilty for the other, based not upon the capitalist principles of symmetry and exchange, but the biblical axioms that we are responsible for the widow, orphan, and stranger irregardless of their regard for us. This is lost in contemporary politics and society and we lose this tradition of wisdom at our peril.

Mumon said...

Chris:

It strikes me that prima facie, the autonomy of the individual you seem to be exalting is precisely the root source of much of the ills of modernity...

And to think they'd been chanting Atta dipa (from the Paranirvana sutra) all those centuries and they'd been waiting for us Westerners to tell them that they were the Light itself.

Seriously, you're going to far in a direction that wasn't what Buddhists taught or practiced historically.

It seems that you are operating from the assumption that Dawkins himself is not beholden to any form of tradition or authority, when in fact he clearly is committed to the Enlightenment tradition and its specific figuration of rationality.

I don't know about what Dawkins as a scientist has actually studied, but I would wager that he's got a passing familiarity though no research expertise with modern physicists, with the advancements in logic, and so forth.

It'd be nice to want to tar him with being a rationalist or (let's update you) a positivist, except for the fact that Dawkins has stated he's commited to evidence, and you're assuming that he'd not commit to evidence that would show the Enlightenment mentality's obsolete.

The
biblical traditions (at their best) offer an approach to community in terms asymmetrical responsibilty for the other, based not upon the capitalist principles of symmetry and exchange, but the biblical axioms that we are responsible for the widow, orphan, and stranger irregardless of their regard for us.


It's an inconsistent message one gets from the bible, as Dawkins very rightly points out. And I'd add, concern for the less fortunate his hardly the province of Christianity or Judaism (or even Islam, where this tradition is actually stronger than Christianity).

(cont.)

Mumon said...

Chris:

I would be curious to hear who you would point to as exemplary figures in the evolution of morality since 1750.

Frederick Douglass comes to mind. So do A. S. Neill, Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia, Helen Keller, Hakuin Ekaku Zenji, Imakita Kosen, Gandhi, Oscar Romero, Emma Goldman, Kierkegaard, the Foundress of the Tzu Chi Foundation and others (there's a wonderful evolution Cha'an tradition almost unknown in the west, but here too has been prevalent in the evolution of morality).

Dawkins btw is hardly any kind of moral exemplar; he is merely a popularizer of others ideas which have been borne out by observation.

Chris said...

Mumon:

Irony abounds in atheistic fundamentalism. In all honesty, I hope your atheism and buddhism help you to crack open your heart and truly investigate your mind. I hope your life goes well.

Mumon said...

Chris:

As I wrote on my blog about a slightly different context, we reveal our minds (and our hearts) through what we write.

Let's all be rid of our poisons.